Damn the Deer -- Full-Speed Ahead!
Last September I had the chance to sample three prototypes of the long-awaited replacement for Lamborghini‘s raging wild Murcielago LP670-4 SuperVeloce that has yet to be named, but is bullishly expected to go by Aventador LP700-4. The prototypes represented three different stages of development, and the drive was on Italy’s famous Nardó proving ground, which includes some lovely handling courses and a 7.5-mile circular high-speed track that is one of the few places on earth where speeds of 200 mph or more can safely be probed.
Few spy shots are worth more than those of an uncamouflaged future Lamborghini flagship, but the various bras, diapers, and other paparazzi countermeasures deployed on such vehicles during early development obscure the aerodynamic surfaces, rendering them useless at the speeds they were designed for, so our prototypes ran sans camo — in the black of night. Yes, our first experience at the wheel of the “83X” prototypes was a banzai run in the dark, following a Gallardo Supertrofeo pace car.
By hanging back and then catching up, I managed to log an indicated 320 km/h (199 mph) while probing my subconscious for any shreds of knowledge about deer populations in Italy’s boot-heel. I’m happy to report that A) The southern Italian fauna is apparently attuned to tornado-like sound of an approaching Italian exotic traveling at the double-century mark; and B) that extensive aerodynamic research and wind-tunnel verification testing make the Aventador feel reassuringly stable at these speeds. A Murcielago provided for comparison felt far wilder, a bit nervous, and much more likely to kill me if I tried maxing it out.
The basic shape and the movable rear wing (it rises to 11 degrees for maximum rear grip when hot-lapping a race circuit, then lowers to 5 degrees for top-speed runs) create considerable downforce (final figures have yet to be released), such that the aerodynamic load on one of our prototypes compressed its springs to the point of engaging the bump-stop rubber, making for an abrupt and vertically jumpy ride. It’s no small feat to tune aerodynamics, springs, all-wheel-drive balance, etc. for the very occasional customer who will probe the outer limits of its claimed 217-mph capability while keeping the ride acceptable for those who only care about securing the best parking spot in front of the Casino Royale.
It makes a mighty angry roar at high speeds, almost completely drowning out the sonorous snarl of the V-12 in the cockpit at heroic speeds. Steering effort is appropriately hefty at such speeds, when an inadvertent “maneuver” could be catastrophic. The other truly remarkable impression the new car makes is how significantly the new V-12 engine pulls when rolling on from 185 to 195 mph after hanging back from the lead car for a moment. All 690 of these SAE horses are obviously thoroughbreds.
The next morning we took to the handling circuit, first in the outgoing Murciélago, and then in the prototypes. The new car feels like a major leap forward, even before you pull the right paddle to engage first gear. The cockpit ergonomics are vastly improved and seat comfort is increased exponentially thank to its improved shape and the fact that the driver now sits more directly behind the controls instead of angling right to reach them in a Murciélago.
An Audi-derived multimedia knob and button system replaces a funky screen surrounded by microscopic indecipherable buttons, while a modern high-def TFT instrument cluster displays virtual analog gauges in crystal clarity — a welcome replacement for the squinched, leaned-over graphics of yore. The rest of the switchgear is modernized, though most of it still seems bespoke and special. A reverse camera is standard, which is a great thing because those three bent louvers obscure visibility through the tiny rear window even more than the Murci’s straight ones did.
The four-corner control-arm and rocker-arm-actuated coil-over shock suspension system employ conventional Ohlins dampers at all four corners (expect magnetic ride control to migrate from parent Audi sometime during the LP700-4’s anticipated 10-year run), so the three drive modes (Strada, Sport, and Corsa) only alter the throttle map, shift speed, stability control thresholds, and the like for now. My full-on track assault was made in Corsa, or race mode. Once up to operating temperature, at high-rpm wide-open-throttle the new automated manual single-clutch transmission shifts way quicker than the Murcielago’s, and almost as quickly as a twin-clutch (they’re more languid when you’re not charging as hard, no matter which setting is selected).
Charging off toward the distant turn one, the acceleration is far greater than 30 more horsepower could account for. Credit goes to the new car’s lightened composite body structure (based on the technology showcased on the recent Sesto Elemento concept car), more about which will be revealed shortly. The engine note is considerably more appealing, thanks in part to the acoustic properties of the composite firewall as well as the new engine’s intake and exhaust. We can’t wait to hear even more of it from an inevitable future Spyder variant.
Relative to its predecessor, the LP700’s spring rates are roughly 5-10 percent softer, but measured together the spring and damper tuning is harder on the new car. Such subtleties were difficult to discern on this smooth new track, but the lighter weight, active all-wheel-drive control, and sophisticated stability control system were immediately evident. When going into a turn, this significantly lightened car pushes far less than its 3900-pound progenitor does. Almost as soon as you’ve trailed off the brakes you can roll onto the throttle harder than imaginable, allowing the ESP and increasing front-wheel drive torque to pull the big supercar through the corner.
A broader power band also means you never have to rev it all the way out, and short-shifting is a better strategy in many parts of a fast track like the long course at Nardó. The outgoing car, which didn’t offer any stability controls, feels extremely dangerous when charging hard, while the new one inspires confidence without seeming antiseptically safe or boring. It remains to be seen which approach results in more wreckedexotics.com fodder, but at least when it all goes wrong, the new Aventador is ready to cushion its occupants with eight airbags, including knee bags for each and, we’re told, the scissor doors have an emergency opening system in case of roll-over.
Huge 15.7-inch carbon-ceramic brake rotors front and rear are easily modulated at low speed with a bit of free pedal travel that disappears under hard driving conditions when the system pre-fills the caliper for instantaneous response.
As with the Corvette ZR-1 and so many other supercars, it takes a LOT more than one day of lapping to discover how deep one can charge into a corner and still erase enough speed to negotiate the curve, and throughout a full day of hard lapping none of the three prototypes evinced even a hint of fade. Interestingly, during our drive day the two older prototypes suffered several maladies that sidelined them temporarily, but never did a wrench spin. All “repairs” were made via laptop connection. Amazing.
Slowing things down a bit for a parade lap of photography reveals the new transmission to be no match for the shift smoothness of a dual-clutch tranny. The torque interruption is always noticeable and shifts are slower in these other modes (plus they occur automatically at redline even when manual shifting is selected in either of these modes – Corsa lets you bounce off the limiter). The track was too smooth to afford much of an evaluation on ride quality, but the car’s general drivability represents a huge step forward. The gauge cluster can be configured for either an analogue tachometer sweeping the main gauge with a digital speed reading inset, or vice-versa.
Many details remain to be finalized and announced, like official power and torque, weight, gear ratios, and more quotidian concerns like price and fuel economy (if you have to ask about either…). All will be revealed at the car’s official introduction in Geneva this March, whereupon posters of it will begin adorning teen car-nut walls immediately, shortly after which the real thing will begin rolling into the garages of lucky rap stars and serious, tech-savvy drivers. I can tell you this hopeful lottery winner ranks the Aventador well above its corporate cousin, the Veyron, on his shopping list…